Replay: John Rittmeyer's Journey from a Mickey Mouse Guitar to Mozart

Aug 3, 2017

Classical 101's musical instrument drive, Replay!, continues until 4 p.m. Friday. It's designed to get musical instruments into the hands of young people in Columbus by collecting donations of instruments no longer needed or being used. The response has been fantastic, so thank you and keep them coming.

With all the great stories of first experiences with music and musical instruments we've heard this week, I tried to recollect my first memories of music. Up until then, I had pretty much forgotten about what actually must have been my first musical instrument—a Mickey Mouse guitar!

And I don't mean a cheap or poorly made instrument, although I'm sure it didn't cost all that much and couldn't have been very well made.

I mean the Walt Disney cartoon character that is now an American icon. I never made it to Disneyland or Disney World, but when I was very young growing up in Cleveland, I watched Walt Disney Presents on TV, which opened with the song "When You Wish Upon a Star."

I must have wished for a guitar, because one Christmas I got my own little bit of the Magic Kingdom in the form of a toy plastic guitar with four nylon strings. It was red and black with Mickey's ears on either side of the guitar neck and the rest of his face on the front of the body, forming the familiar guitar-like shape.

I knew nothing about music at the time, except that I liked it. I don't remember if I was ever even able to tune the guitar properly, let alone learn how to play it.

Somewhere, there's an old photo of me proudly holding my first "guitar." I had to be under 10 years old at the time, but it would be several more years before I tried to play a musical instrument again and actually keep at it.

I do remember listening to music more and more as my childhood progressed. There was no classical music in the picture yet, but with a small AM transistor radio held to my ear at night, I would listen to Marty Robbins singing a ballad with a story that took place "out in the West Texas town of El Paso," or I'd hear Johnny Preston singing the sad tale of "Running Bear and Little White Dove." In Cleveland back then, you could also hear Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and, of course, Elvis.

What really got me "all shook up," though, was when the Beatles appeared on TV during The Ed Sullivan Show on a Sunday evening in February 1964. The rest, as they say, is history.  

Now, like a million other kids, I wanted a real guitar. Eventually I did get one and learned how to play—somewhat. I still occasionally plug away at it, but being a musician was not to be the path for me.     

Ultimately, I found a "magic kingdom" in "the realm" of classical music, as a listener. The rich and rewarding works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Sibelius and many other great composers transported me to new inner worlds via my imagination and made me want to learn more.

In the realm of opera, I found the "magic kingdom" in the adventures of Prince Tamino and Pamina in the fairytale story of The Magic Flute by Mozart. The hero Siegfried killing a dragon and rescuing Brunnhilde from a ring of fire in the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, or the plight of the High Priestess, Aida and Radames in the opera Aida by Giuseppe Verdi moved me as deeply as my childhood discoveries and experiences of music.

All this had a great effect on me and eventually led me to where I am today. But we all have to begin the journey somewhere if we feel attracted to music, even if it's something as seemingly insignificant as a Mickey Mouse guitar.

There are probably kids out there wishing "upon a star" for a guitar, flute, clarinet, violin, cello or saxophone. And your donation to Replay! can make that dream come true.